Gilbert sets preliminary budget of more than $1 billion

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Gilbert Town Council approved a preliminary fiscal year 2019-20 budget of $1.05 billion, the first in town history to pass the billion-dollar mark, at its May 2 meeting.

Council further heard a proposal for a secondary property tax levy increase to $24.15 million, up from $22.3 million, though the rate will remain steady at $0.99 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Final vote on the budget and secondary property tax levy will come June 6.

The two actions were not without opposition. Each passed on a 5-2 vote with council members Jared Taylor and Aimee Yentes casting dissenting votes.

Taylor, in particular, raised objections to new spending and sustained spending for programs about which he previously raised concerns. He gave the example of Cactus Yards operations, which he said has a structural deficit of about $1 million annually.

Taylor and Yentes expressed concern that the American economy is showing signs of a recession in the future and that the Gilbert budget must reflect a readiness to handle that eventuality.

“I do believe our economy is soft and has some underlying issues,” Yentes said. “I think [a recession]is definitely impending, and an abundance of caution, I think, is wise.”

Yentes said she did not think the town should take on additional debt and wondered if a push some council members made at a financial retreat in February was really a move toward a primary property tax increase.

However, Mayor Jenn Daniels said no one on council supports such an increase.

Daniels said Gilbert’s budget is more transparent than many other cities and towns, which she said hide transfers and other items to give their budgets a better appearance. Gilbert does not do those things, she said.

Actual spending vs. budget

Council members also debated how the budget is presented. Vice Mayor Eddie Cook had staff show slides that displayed Gilbert’s actual general fund spending in recent years of about $160 million remaining relatively flat or even decreasing.

Taylor said he would like to see the budget move closer to actual spending.

“Every year, Eddie gives us a chart and makes comments relative to the amount of spending that we’re going to have relative to what we’re committing to in the budget,” Taylor said. “And there’s always hundreds of millions of dollars difference. I think we need to be as precise as we reasonably can.”

Budget Director Kelly Pfost said that once the town sets it expenditure limit, it cannot go even $1 over, so it must be built with some flexibility. Furthermore, a bulk of the difference between the budget amount and the actual spending comes from how the town handles its spending for capital improvement projects, or CIPs.

Pfost said the town does not start a CIP without the full funding in place, though the project itself may unfold over several years. Staff said that is another way in which Gilbert differs from many other communities.
Council Member Jordan Ray said he appreciates the town’s approach.

“I love that we budget the entire thing now, knowing we’re not going to spend it, but we have the money set aside,” he said. “We will roll it over at the end of the year.

“I remember when I ran for council the first time; this was something I criticized until I realized the benefit of it. I can’t think of a more conservative way to budget than to put all the money aside.”

Other actions

Council also approved the draft capital improvement projects plan for 2020-29 and cleaned up some micromobility ordinance language to be consistent with other areas in the town code.

The language changes took out requirements for certain safety issues, such as helmets, goggles and closed-toe shoes. Police Chief Michael Soelberg said the town still encourages riders to use those but wanted to leave choices to parents and users rather than law enforcement.

Council also approved acquisition of right of way and easement on some Maricopa County land at Lindsay Road and Lexington Street as part of the preparations for adding an interchange for the 202 at Lindsay.

The price of $187,000 was above the appraised value of $159,645. However, Town Engineer David Fabiano said staff was recommending approval, after long negotiations with the property owner, because the additional administrative fee would be less than the cost of moving the property through the eminent domain acquisition process.

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Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.
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